A Message to the TFA Community from CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard and National Board Chair David Kenny
January 29, 2024
Dear TFA Colleagues,
As we turn the page to a new year, I’ve been reflecting on our collective impact and the work we do together in pursuit of ensuring every child has an equal chance in life. I am immensely proud and honored to be in this work alongside each of you because I have seen over and over again that change is only possible when there are extraordinary, values-driven, determined, committed, and thoughtful leaders working together. In fact, this is the only thing that has ever changed the course of history, and that kind of leadership has never been more vital. It is from this place of pride and admiration that I want you all to hear from me about a personal decision I’ve made, which is that in the calendar year 2025 I will step down as Chief Executive Officer.
2025 will mark a significant year for Teach For America in several ways. It will be 35 years since our founder, Wendy Kopp, set forth a bold vision to inspire generations of leaders to help work toward the day when every child would have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. And today it stands at 70,000 strong. We will also be halfway into reaching our bold 2030 goal, which is work we do with children and communities that has been accelerated by the organizational transformation we are undertaking.
TFA has been fiercely focused on educational excellence and equity for our entire history and has evolved in important and powerful ways over the years. I have had the incredible privilege of being part of that evolution and impact over the last 25 years. As a corps member in our early years, I saw firsthand how we worked to get “proof of concept” as an organization to deliver value and impact on providing young people the education they want and deserve that leads corps members to a lifelong pursuit of justice and advocacy for those of greatest needs. As Chief Operating Officer, I led our work in the field to dramatically increase the scale of TFA's impact to become a national force, working in more than 300 communities across the country and a growing alumni network now reaching over 65,000. And as CEO, I am proud of what we have done to adapt an organization at scale to stay relevant and thrive in the changing context in which we are living. This has included transforming how we operate, innovating our programs, and encouraging the most diverse generation of leaders in history to take on one of the greatest acts of leadership, teaching, with a growing corps that today is 60% people of color and 45% first generation college graduates. TFA is financially strong, with growing impact, corps size, Ignite tutoring fellows, and alumni in vital leadership roles – all working collectively with many others toward meaningful student outcomes and systems change.
My quarter century of service to Teach For America as a corps member and on staff – and next year marks 12 years as CEO – has been the greatest honor and privilege. I am sharing this news of my intention with you now, far in advance of that, to ensure we have an opportunity for a thoughtful and careful transition over the next 18-24 months. Working closely with the Board, TFA is undertaking a succession and transition planning process that will transparently engage stakeholders in seeking TFA’s next CEO. More details on that process will follow. As that process takes place, I will continue to serve as CEO working alongside our exceptional staff including our President and COO, Jemina Bernard, national and regional executives, boards, and you all continuing TFA’s critical work.
When I joined Teach For America in 1998, I joined because of our mission and to work alongside the most extraordinary people I had ever met in my life who shared an unrelenting belief in every child and were uncompromising in that belief no matter what. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would be here 25 years later, but my students changed my life and focus. And my confidence in this place and its future stems from the remarkable 70,000 network starting with all of you.
We remain steadfast in our pursuit of One Day, and there is never an ideal time for a transition like this one. Young people are facing a learning and mental health crisis and TFA has leaned all the way into the challenges. We are responding with clarity, action, and possibility. I am confident about TFA’s future and as excited about what’s possible as I was the first day in the classroom. I look forward to continuing to work alongside you this year and next as we strive to have the greatest impact yet.
Below, please find a note to our community from Teach For America’s National Board Chair, David Kenny.
With respect and admiration,
Elisa Villanueva Beard
Teach For America - Phoenix 1998
To the TFA Community,
Elisa has shared that, after 25 years of service and unwavering commitment to students and Teach For America’s mission of educational excellence and equity, she has decided that 2025 will be her last year as our CEO. We could not be more grateful for or proud of Elisa’s steadfast leadership and impact through this quarter of a century, as well as for the thoughtful approach she is taking in the transition process continuing in her role leading TFA until a new CEO is chosen next year.
Elisa’s transition timeline means there will be plenty of time in the future to celebrate her fierce pursuit of One Day. But today, on behalf of the National Board of Directors, I do want to take a moment to offer a word of gratitude. I have had the pleasure to serve on the Board over the last two decades and work alongside Elisa and see her unwavering leadership up-close. She continues to lead us through some of the most consequential and challenging economic, political, and cultural years this Board has seen in our lifetimes. Elisa always brings an unfaltering commitment to students and to our mission, as a corps member, regional executive director, COO, and CEO. In her tenure, TFA has grown into new communities across the country, expanding the scale and impact of TFA’s work to a network of over 70,000 alumni, corps members, and Ignite fellows. And she is currently leading a transformation of TFA itself and innovation of our programs, including the Ignite fellows tutoring initiative, putting TFA on a path to even greater impact in the future.
And of course, because humility is a deep value of Elisa’s, everyone who knows Elisa knows she would be the first to say that TFA’s success is never about just one person. It begins with every corps member leading their classrooms today, and includes the tens of thousands of alumni leaders, national and local leadership and their teams and our partners and supporters who collectively do so much to ensure TFA is a strong organization on the right path for the future. As a Board we are confident in the direction of this organization and have full confidence in the leadership of Teach for America.
I firmly believe that deliberate long-term planning is the responsibility of those of us who are stewards of the organization, and the National Board is committed to conducting a thoughtful succession process and will be deeply engaged in the important work of choosing TFA’s next CEO in the months to come. As part of that charge, we look forward to an open and transparent process, welcoming input from the community and taking time to engage our large network of stakeholders and champions to hear their perspectives.
In the meantime, I look forward to continuing to work with Elisa and the talented and capable TFA leadership team on our important work.
Teach For America National Board Chair